How to Gut Regulations the Old Fashioned Way

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 12:08 PM EDT

Is George Painter just another old guy suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's disease? Or is he perfectly in control of his faculties and quite correct when he says that Bruce Levine, his longtime colleague as an administrative law judge for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, made a vow 20 years ago never to rule against an investment firm? He made the charge in his resignation letter last month:

There are two administrative law judges at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission: myself and the Honorable Bruce Levine. On Judge Levine's first week on the job, nearly twenty years ago, he came into my office and stated that he had promised Wendy Gramm, then Chairwoman of the Commission, that we would never rule in a complainant's favor. A review of his rulings will confirm that he has fulfilled his vow. Judge Levine, in the cynical guise of enforcing the rules, forces pro se complaints to run a hostile procedural gauntlet until they lose hope, and either withdraw their complaint or settle for a pittance, regardless of the merits of the case.

Michael Hiltzik looks into Painter's charges here, and concludes that (a) he seems pretty lucid, and (b) he seems to be right. It's a great example of how you can effectively gut a financial regulatory regime without actually going through the hassle of getting the regulations themselves changed. Just hire someone someone who refuses to enforce the regulations, and voila! They might as well not exist. Nice work, George H.W. Bush.

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